“Tokyo Story” was the first Japanese film to gain notice in the West and is getting the big screen treatment in Toronto as part of a special series at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Released in 1953, it’s an acclaimed movie with a simple story, but a distinct style that is only done further justice when seen on a big screen. The film tells the story of grandparents come to visit their inhospitable children in the city before the grandmother becomes critically ill.
This is Mother and Father's first time visiting their children. Upon their arrival, they stay with their son the doctor and his family. But his patients keep him busy, leaving no time for him to entertain his parents. They experience the same imposition when they stay with their daughter who owns a salon. The only one willing to make time for them is their daughter-in-law, whose husband went missing in the war eight years ago. Finally shipped off to a spa, they decide it's time to go back home. But Mother's illness brings all their children home, even though their concern is short-lived.
Director Yasujirô Ozu is an auteur director that emerged post-WWII. He became a topic of study and acclaim for his use of space in contrast to the Hollywood system. Not adhering to the 180° rule, Ozu shoots in a 360° space. When displaying a scene in the salon, it is first shown from one angle then from the complete opposite side of the room. The camera is generally stationary, not moving as the action takes place around it. He uses depth of field to expand scenes, creating extra layers in the unfolding narrative. It causes the viewer to feel like an unnoticed observer in the room, adding a sense of reality to the already realistic stories. Ozu is also unafraid of holding the camera on an unrelated object or landscape, such as a pair of slippers in the hall or the billowing smokestacks of a factory. The dialogue is pedestrian, but it fits Ozu's style.
Mother and Father are so proud of their children's success, they appear unfazed by the fact that they have no time for them. They also ignore the insolent behavior of their grandchildren because they see them so rarely. At the same time, all of these adversaries are cushioned by the care and attention of their daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara). She makes the time to spend with them and is happy to do so even though she's no longer technically tied to the family.
Hara has a lovely smile that lights up the room. She has a girlish charm that is accentuated by her quiet beauty and gentle manner. She is immediately likeable and represents the flame to which audiences are drawn despite her not being one of the film's central figures.
After watching the film, it becomes self-explanatory why Hara was selected to be featured in TIFF Cinematheque's “Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema’s Golden Age.” “Tokyo Story” screens Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.
Director: Yasujirô Ozu